22 Nov 2008

Nightmare on a posh street

A nightmare is sometimes the first thing early in the morning. Well at least it was for me one fine Sunday morning in San Jose, when I woke up to discover that turning the taps on did not result in the familiar gurgle and splash of water.

The apartment that I was staying in along with a couple of my friends was one of the higher end apartments. It was known for its resort style living and exotic facilities, and of course rents which were in a higher band when compared to other apartments. So taps running dry early in the morning was as shocking as a UFO landing on our terrace.

Once the shock waves receded, however, the finger of suspicion pointed at me: possibly I had defaulted on last month's bill. I logged on to the internet and checked. The bill was paid.

I ran to the apartment office, and saw an elderly lady employee just entering.

"How may I help you?"

"There is no water supply in our apartment."

"Oh, sorry for the inconvenience, did you call up the maintenance people and register your complaint?"

"Nobody gave us the maintenance number when we moved into the apartment."

"Here, it is on this card."

She handed me a visiting card cut in the shape of a house, with a little chimney.

"I cannot see any maintenance phone number here."

"Oh, you can't? Oh yes, the pager number mentioned there is actually the maintenance phone number."

I returned to the apartment and rang the number. After a few rings it went to voicemail. Probably the maintenance guys never expected this kind of a problem and were sound asleep; I left a message detailing my problem.

I sat in a corner, twiddling my thumb, as we didn't have a drop of water in the house. No water meant no brushing the teeth. No tea.

But above all, no bathroom use.

My roommates were still fast asleep, their snoring puncturing the early morning silence. I prayed that they should remain that way till water supply was restored.

The second call to the maintenance number too went to the voicemail. Then I called up the apartment office. The same lady who had given me the maintenance number picked up the phone.

"I have registered the complaint, but the maintenance people did not get back."

"Oh, you see, all apartments in your block have called up for the same problem. There has been some damage to the main water supply line to your block."

She might have as well said "You are under house arrest until further notice."

She continued with a ray of hope:

"I can give you the keys to a vacant flat in another block which you can make use."

The sense of relief was enormous; I sprang like a deer towards the apartment office.

The lady smiled apologies and fished out a bunch of keys. "Here you go." She handed me the keys and also scribbled the block name and the apartment number on a piece of paper. Block 371, apartment 125. She then noted my details in a register, along with the number of the vacant apartment that she was temporarily assigning to me. I could see a big list of predecessors in the register -- other early risers from my block. If they had that many vacant houses, I thought, probably their business wasn't exactly booming. The thought comforted me as we were due for a lease renewal later that month. Bad business means better deals for the existing tenants.

Anyway, I took the key and proceeded to the vacant apartment, to make sure that the taps were running. I would return with my toothbrush afterwards, I thought. After locating the vacant apartment, I turned the key first in the top keyhole, clockwise (doors have 2 keyholes), and then in the bottom one, anticlockwise. The door did not open.

I fiddled with the key combo for some time and gave up. Today wasn't my day. Arms akimbo, I was pondering the next move when a faint click alerted my ears. I watched with horror (and some gooseflesh on my limbs) as the doorknob turned slowly. It was supposed to be a vacant apartment. How was the door opening from inside? I felt spooky and almost shrieked when a half asleep face peered though the gap. I wasn't sure if there was a body behind that face.


"I ... our building no water supply... apartment complex issued the key to this... vacant apartment; look it is written on the key... the house is supposed to be vacant..."

The face carefully studied the piece of paper. I took a step back just in case a hand with a boxing glove was waiting behind the face to knock the wind out of my system.

Thankfully, the face turned kind.

"No, this is not vacant. I stay here."

I could see that. I felt a sudden rage for the lady in the apartment complex.

"Sorry," I apologized to the face and ran out of the building. I thundered into the apartment office and shouted, "That apartment is occupied."

"Oh is it? I am so sorry. Let me find you another vacant apartment." The lady disappeared into an adjacent room and returned after a couple of minutes, with a new set of keys.

"Here, this time I have checked in the computer. This apartment is indeed vacant."

Oh respected lady, I thought, what stopped you from checking in the computer last time.

I proceeded briskly to this second vacant apartment. And it was indeed vacant! A quick survey of the bathroom revealed running taps. With a gleeful heart, I ran back to share the news with my roommates. How happy they would be to learn about my deft handling of the situation.

When I reached my apartment, the two had just woken up and were at the wash basin, brushing and splashing. The maintenance crew had fixed the problem.

"Where did you go so early in the morning with a toothbrush in hand?" one of them asked.

"Went…in search of water," I said.

I haven't forgotten that puzzled look on their faces. Neither have I forgotten my resolution of waking up last on Sundays.

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